Taking a Look Inside Out: How Does an Endoscope Work?

how does an endoscope work

You have probably heard of or even had a colonoscopy. Did you know that is only one type of endoscopy? Are you surprised to hear that doctors perform about 75 million endoscopies in the U.S. each year?

You may wonder, “how does an endoscope work?” It’s become a preferred choice since it requires only small incisions (cuts) or none at all. Keep reading to learn more about this procedure.

Purpose of an Endoscopic Examination

During an endoscopy, the physician places a special instrument into the body. The patient is usually sedated for these procedures.

The endoscope is often inserted through the mouth, nose, or rectum. These procedures usually don’t need an incision to complete the procedure.

Once the endoscope is inside the body, the physician can look at the area of concern. This approach is often chosen for an examination of the following parts of the body:

  • Esophagus (tube between your throat and stomach)
  • Stomach
  • Colon (the large intestine)
  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Urinary tract (tubes leading to the bladder)
  • Bladder

In some instances, endoscopy procedures examine the heart, abdomen, or joints. One or more small incisions allow the endoscope to look inside these areas. For heart procedures, the special scope is placed inside a big artery and slid into the heart.

Endoscopies allow the physician to examine the internal parts of the body. They can also perform minimally invasive endoscopic surgery. For example, they can remove, or biopsy, samples of tissue for further diagnosis.

In heart procedures, surgeons can remove blockages in arteries. They’re also able to place stents to keep the arteries open.

How Does an Endoscope Work?

The endoscope is a thin, handheld instrument with a grip and a flexible tube. It comes in different lengths depending on the type of procedure. Often, it has triggers and levers to operate the different mechanisms.

These tools may include devices to allow grabbing, pulling, twisting, and cutting. There’s an endoscope camera and light on the end that lets the physician look at the body parts. This image displays on a monitor and the system records the procedure for future review.

The flexible endoscope lets the physician move and position the light and camera. This ensures examination of all areas and the ability to perform procedures with precision.

Tools Used During an Endoscopy

The endoscope has a tube running through the inside of the scope. Physicians can insert various tools needed for performing procedures. Examples of some of the tools used include:

  • Biopsy forceps used to take samples of abnormal-looking tissue
  • Cytology brushes allow the physician to scrape and collect suspicious cells
  • Flexible forceps are like tongs that let the physician pick up tissue samples
  • Suture removal forceps let physicians remove stitches from inside the body

These tools revolutionized the practice of medicine. Before the advent of endoscopic procedures, patients would have needed a surgical incision. This created increased risks of complications and prolonged recovery.

Today, these procedures are performed on an out-patient basis. The patient may only need one day before returning to normal activity.

What Is a Nitinol Wire?

Nitinol wire is a special type of wire made from a shape memory alloy (SMA). This alloy combines nickel and titanium.

When the wire is at room temperature, it bends to any shape. In fact, it’s about 10 to 30 times more elastic than any ordinary metals.

Yet, when it’s heated, it returns to its original shape. This shape and memory property has heightened its use in many medical devices.

Nitinol wire has several other properties that lend itself to use in medical equipment. It has an excellent thermal conductivity which contributes to its excellent shape memory.

Nitinol is highly resistant to corrosion exceeding even stainless steel. It’s also biocompatible. This means that using it in the human body doesn’t place the patient at any risk.

Medical Uses of Nitinol Cables

Nitinol cables are now used in endoscopes since it easily twists into any shape and resists kinking. This provides the precision needed with endoscopy when looking at internal organs.

The nitinol wire, unlike other types of wire, can undergo many cycles of bending without breaking. This makes it perfect for use in endoscopes that are often used many times each day. 

The nitinol wire is beneficial for placing stents in narrowed vessels or tubes. For example, stents may be placed to hold open arteries and urinary tubes.

The physician places the instrument containing the collapsed stent inside the endoscopic tube. When the stent is in the proper place, a balloon inflates the stent which will maintain the desired shape.

Endoscopes need the flexibility to navigate through delicate vessels and soft tissue. Yet, when they reach their destination, they may need to become more rigid. This allows the physician to perform the exam and procedures.

This is where the SMA property of nitinol cable comes into play. It’s able to make this adjustment at the tip of the endoscopic device. This shaping and reshaping are vital to precision performance.

Are You a Curious Person?

Did you find this information about “how does an endoscope work” interesting? Do you have a better understanding of the benefits of endoscopic procedures?

Many medical procedures are now performed on an outpatient basis. Twenty years ago, patients spent up to 2-3 days in the hospital for a biopsy or internal organ exam. Then they might spend a week or more recovering for the same outcome.

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About the Author: Khurram Raheel Akbar

Khurram Raheel Akbar is a reporter for Zobuz. He previously worked at Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Raheel is based in PAK and covers issues affecting his city. In addition to his severe coffee addiction, he's a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.

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